If the term "skin barrier" brings to mind an invisible wall at the surface of your skin, protecting it from the harms of the outside world, you're actually not too far off. You've probably seen products promising to restore your damaged skin barrier. But what exactly is a skin barrier, and what happens when it's no longer doing its job?

Read on to learn all about this essential part of your body, including how to know if your skin barrier is damaged and what you can do to nourish it for a healthy, vibrant complexion.

Understanding the Skin Barrier

Your skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin. It's your body's first line of defense against external threats, and it helps keep harmful bugs, allergens, toxins, and other chemicals out. Your skin barrier also works to keep all the good stuff—like moisture—in. Even though it's very thin (thinner than a sheet of paper in some areas), this layer is constantly working to keep you healthy.

Think of the skin barrier like your brick wall of defense. Each brick represents an individual skin cell, and the mortar is the glue that keeps the wall intact and prevents holes from forming.

This mortar is made up of many different essential nutrients (also called the "natural moisturizing factor," or NMF) to keep the barrier working its best. These include important compounds like ceramides and fatty acids, as well as other elements that help lock in moisture and keep a balanced pH, like urea and amino acids.

5 Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

Your skin barrier is most effective when all of its components are working together in harmony. If one or more of the elements isn't working properly, it can throw off the whole system and eventually lead to a damaged barrier. This can cause some of these visible changes in your skin:

  1. Appearance of skin conditions. Eczema, rosacea, and acne can develop (or worsen if you already have them).
  2. Discolored patches and uneven texture. This may show up as red or hyperpigmented spots.
  3. Signs of dehydration. Flakiness and scaling or a dull, dry appearance to your complexion can all point to a damaged skin barrier.
  4. New skin symptoms. These may include itching, burning, or sensitive skin.
  5. Slower wound healing. Seeing as a damaged barrier doesn't have as much moisture, you may notice that a cut or scratch takes longer to heal.

How to Prevent a Damaged Skin Barrier

Take these steps in your everyday routine to maintain a strong and healthy skin barrier, or to slow damage from happening at its first signs:

  • Eliminate (or reduce) harmful exposure. This includes things like ultraviolet (UV) exposure to the sun and harsh or abrasive skin products. When cleansing your face, stick to lukewarm water and don't wash more than twice a day.
  • Streamline your skin care routine. When it comes to preventing a damaged skin barrier, less is definitely more. Too many products at once can irritate and damage your skin. Stick to the basics to start, including a mild cleanser like EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser, followed by a moisturizer and sunscreen. You can build from there.
  • Keep your skin hydrated. Some climates can really strip your skin of its moisture. Combat seasonal dryness by using products that have hydrating ingredients, like Hyaluronic Acid in EltaMD Skin Recovery Light Moisturizer. Using an amino acid formula before you moisturize, like EltaMD Skin Recovery Serum, can help restore your barrier and lock in moisture.
  • Maintain a balanced pH. Part of a healthy barrier is keeping your skin's pH balanced. To maintain a proper pH, avoid using harsh scrubs and try a pH-friendly toner, like EltaMD Skin Recovery Essence Toner. Just keep in mind that toners can make some conditions (like rosacea) worse, so it's best to consult a board-certified Dermatologist before adding a toner to your regimen.
  • Minimize stress and be kind to yourself. Lowering your stress levels is good for your skin and overall health. Getting the glowing complexion you want may not happen overnight, so remember to be kind to yourself throughout the process.

Achieving—and maintaining—a healthy skin barrier is definitely possible, and it doesn't have to be hard. By following some simple steps in your daily routine, you'll improve your skin's appearance and minimize any symptoms, like irritation and redness. Before you know it, your complexion will be as beautiful and vibrant as you are.

Author

  • MARIA ROBINSON, MD, MBA

    Maria Robinson, MD, MBA is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with over ten years of clinical experience. Dr. Robinson has a passion for nutrition and integrative dermatology, and is the co-founder of www.integrativederm.org, where people can explore holistic dermatology treatments. Through her writing, she strives to empower people with accurate health information so they can make positive decisions that lead to healthy and vibrant skin.

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